Press release

NHS leaders call for concrete proposals and realism in leadership contest

Both candidates vying to be Prime Minister have so far failed to appreciate NHS pressures and the need for long-term solutions.

4 August 2022

NHS leaders are warning that both candidates vying for the job of future Prime Minister have so far failed to show a clear appreciation of the pressures facing the health service or propose any meaningful long-term solutions.

The NHS Confederation, on behalf of NHS leaders, has penned letters to both the Right Honourable Rishi Sunak MP and Elizabeth Truss MP laying out deep concerns about the significant challenges facing both the NHS and social care, and outlining what is needed from the Government and next Prime Minister to address these.

NHS leaders are clear there needs to be a ‘realism reset’ on the NHS – a dose of political honesty and levelling with the public about what the NHS is facing and what it needs to address it. They warn that instead of offering platitudes, soundbites and policy gimmicks the Government must now tackle head on three key issues affecting the NHS.

The most pressing is the need for a fully costed and funded workforce plan to deal with the 105,000 vacancies in the NHS and 165,000 vacancies in social care; additional capital investment to upgrade much of the crumbling estate, buildings and infrastructure; and a rescue package for social care which they say remains far from ‘fixed’, as the Government claim, and which is leading to significant extra demand on the health service.

Without urgent action NHS leaders are warning of their grave concerns about the immediate future of both the health service and social care. They say that despite everything the NHS is doing, the backlog for elective care is growing, as are waiting lists for mental health and community services, alongside an ongoing workforce crisis, capacity issues across primary care and ambulance and emergency care services and pressures in the social care sector.

The culmination of these challenges mean the NHS is currently facing ‘winter in summer’ and health service leaders are sounding the alarm that they are approaching the coming months with extreme trepidation. Without action from the Government, they warn that patient safety will continue to be put at risk.

Danny Mortimer, deputy chief executive of the NHS Confederation said:

“As we approach the final weeks of the Conservative Party leadership race and wait to find out who our next Prime Minister will be, healthcare leaders are approaching winter with a real sense of foreboding.

“They are urging both the remaining candidates to inject their public debate with a sense of urgency and show a real understanding about the huge pressures the NHS and social care are under.

“Now is not the time for glib soundbites, gimmicks and political rhetoric, the NHS needs the new head of Government to set out a realistic reset on health and social care.”

“We need both Mr Sunak and Ms Truss to demonstrate a heavy dose of realism about the state of the NHS and the promise of an open, frank and honest conversation about what this means.

“To truly level with the public they must acknowledge that this means crumbling buildings and ill-equipped outdated estate, 105,000 NHS staff and 165,000 social care vacancies at the last count, and a social care system in desperate need of repair and very far from being fixed as the current Prime Minister would have us believe.”

NHS leaders are urging the remaining candidates to set out how they will support the health service to ensure patients get the care they need. 

This includes ensuring services receive appropriate capital investment, after nine in 10 NHS leaders said recently their efforts to reduce the size of the waiting list are being hindered by a decade long lack of investment in buildings and estate, as well as addressing the workforce crisis and ensuring that social care is appropriately supported, including with a national minimum care worker wage to prevent a mass exodus of staff.

Whilst both Mr Sunak and Ms Truss have indicated general support for the NHS any real substance and clarity in how they will do this is still lacking.

About us

We are the membership organisation that brings together, supports and speaks for the whole healthcare system in England, Wales and Northern Ireland. The members we represent employ 1.5 million staff, care for more than 1 million patients a day and control £150 billion of public expenditure. We promote collaboration and partnership working as the key to improving population health, delivering high-quality care and reducing health inequalities.